Victory! Utah’s Ag Gag Law is Declared Unconstitutional

In a major victory for animals and supporters of free speech, a federal judge has ruled that Utah’s law making it illegal to film what happens at farms and slaughterhouses is unconstitutional.

These laws — which have become known as ag gag laws — are blatant attempts to hide what’s happening on farms and criminalize anyone who attempts to bring the truth to light. They started popping up in the early 1990s, when North Dakota, Kansas and Montana all passed legislation that make it illegal to enter facilities that are closed to the public, or to take photographs, or audio and video recordings.

Since then, attempts to pass similar laws have been tried and defeated in a number of states, but a few have unfortunately succeeded in passing various versions of them.

Utah’s ag gag law was passed in 2012, which made it illegal to record an agricultural operation while trespassing or entering the premises on false pretenses, whether it was an activist, undercover investigator or journalist, and it would apply regardless of whether the issue exposed was animal cruelty, or violations of food safety and other laws.

Soon after the law was passed, Amy Meyer, a resident activist, became the first person in the nation to be prosecuted under one of these laws.

Her crime? Videotaping cruelty to a cow who was unable to walk on its own. The cow was pushed with a bulldozer and treated like trash at the Dale T. Smith and Sons Meat Packing Co. in Draper City. Meyer made the recording with her cell phone from the roadside while she was on public property, yet she was charged with agricultural-operation interference. Her case sparked national attention and outrage, and the charges against her were later dismissed, but the law still stood.

Later that year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed the first lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of ag gag laws against the state, partially on Meyer’s behalf, and now they’re celebrating a major victory.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby issued a landmark ruling that struck down the law on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment.

“The court’s ruling recognizes what PETA has said all along, which is that Americans have a right to know that workers in the meat industry kick pigs in the face, stomp on chickens and turkeys, and smash piglets’ heads against concrete floors,” said PETA Foundation Director of Animal Law, Jared Goodman. “PETA will continue to support the constitutional right of whistleblowers to serve the public and animals by exposing the horrific cruelty that occurs behind the scenes in this industry.”

Investigations exposing the reality of animal agriculture have led to changes in laws, convictions for cruelty and have opened the public’s eyes to what happens behind closed doors. Without them, or free access to the truth, our ability to make informed decisions or generate a dialogue about the industry is stripped away.

The win in Utah follows another victory in Idaho, where the U.S. District Court ruled the state’s ag gag law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments in 2015, and it will hopefully be followed by more.

“These unconstitutional laws will fall like dominos,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the ALDF. “Ag-Gag laws are flagrant attempts to hide animal cruelty from the American people, and they unfairly target activists trying to serve the public’s interest.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

62 comments

heather g
heather g4 days ago

A big step forward, thank you U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner5 days ago

"If we did not breed them for food, many breeds would die out completely" That's garbage excuses for factory farms which are acts of criminality worse than the German holocaust practiced every day by humans. Livestock are artifically bred into the billions and are not wildlife. They are created unnaturally by humans and like humans they're not part of the natural ecosystems. All you have to do to solve the problem is sterilize every one of them except for a few that will adapt to living in the wild (if there's any wild left after the human cancer has destroyed everything). Stopping the "meat" holocaust is an impossible goal though as long as humans are still breeding like flies on this Earth and practicing their destruction and viciousness.

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Mark D
Mark Donner5 days ago

I hope the "Ag-Gag" lawmakers experience car accidents where their ugly sadist faces get smashed in and they suffer for days.

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Margie F
Margie FOURIE6 days ago

Thanks again

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Nicole H
Nicole H7 days ago

Many thanks to ADLF and PETA, and certainly applaud Mrs. Meyer for what she did. It was the start of what happens now. Finally !! We ALL have the right to see what is happening to these animals. And not to forget : we have to know the bastards who are kicking, beating, slamming or torturing slaughter animals or farm animals so that they finally can be taken before Court, and be judged severely for what they did. It is not logic at all that we should be allowed to torture / hurt animals if we are not allowed to do this to humans. We are in the 21st Century, and if we want to be considered as "human" beings, there should no longer be any excuse possible for hurting animals. Not in the farms, and not during transport or in the slaughter houses.

Cruelty Justice : Be careful with what you ask for. If all of us become vegans, an awful lot of animals will become extinct. Now, we have cows and cows - for milk and for meat - those who live in stables, and others who live in the fields, how many varieties are there? I don't know. But the same applies for pigs, chickens, and many many more. You certainly do not believe that there will be lots of people keeping / breeding animals just for the pleasure of looking at them. Doubt it if we will have enough of them to keep all different breeds of cows, pigs aso.. And I don't think a "farm for children" as we know it here, will solve the problem. Most of them only have 1 pig,

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earthism info
earthism info7 days ago

good decision

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Sonia M
Sonia M7 days ago

Good news thanks for sharing

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José Rafael Cuerva Nunes
José Rafael C7 days ago

¡Una gran victoria!

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natasha s
natasha s7 days ago

thank you Judge Shelby! very rare to see a Judge with both a brain+compassion.

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Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa7 days ago

Thank you

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